By Ángel Cabrera and Rose Pascarell
Sexual assault is the number one violent crime on college campuses. Across the country, 1 in 5 college women are victims of sexual assault. At Mason, it means that more than 2,000 undergraduate women (it’s almost always women) may be sexually violated while attending college. This is unacceptable.
A key element of our university’s vision is to become a model wellbeing university. There’s no room for sexual violence in a wellbeing university. We must step up all efforts to eradicate it and make this a priority for the entire university community.
There are a few things we know about rape on university campuses. Victims are most often assaulted by someone they know. Parties tend to be preferred crime scenes, and many women are raped while drunk or under the influence of drugs. Rapists are almost always men and are usually serial offenders. The average number of rapes or attempted rapes for each of them is about six.
Universities are becoming more aware of these dynamics and have responded in varying degrees: Longstanding initiatives have focused on victim empowerment and resistance; administrative staff who primarily fall under the Student Life or University Life structure program for prevention, assist victims and survivors, support alleged perpetrators, and create hearing boards trained to understand the dynamics of sexual assault.
At Mason, the Women’s Center sponsored the first Take Back the Night Rally and March Against Sexual Violence 20 years ago and it remains one of the oldest annual rallies on campus. We also have an office dedicated to the education and prevention of sexual violence (waves.gmu.edu). Nationally, attention is being drawn to these violent crimes on university campuses. Last month, for example, President Barack Obama established a White House taskforce to protect students from sexual assault. And last week, University of Virginia’s president, Dr. Teresa A. Sullivan hosted a national gathering of university leaders to share best practices and increase efforts to stop sexual violence on campus. All of these efforts are a welcoming sign that attention is being directed to this important issue.
Yet for all we and other colleges do, the numbers of those victimized remain have remained unchanged for the last 20 years. And we know that victims are still reluctant to come forward. This is especially true of members of marginalized communities — undocumented students, trans students, students of color, and male victims can face additional stigma for reporting. Overall, only about 12 percent of victims report the crimes, so most offenders are free to try again. The impact of sexual violence on victims does not end at graduation. It continues well beyond, in the personal and professional lives of our alumni.
We must put an end to this dynamic of violence. We must focus on stronger and more visible prevention and education efforts from freshman orientation to senior graduation. But we need everyone’s help increasing awareness, preventing and reporting.
Rose and I are both raising future college students — we want our kids to enter college without fear and with the passion and opportunity to be powerful allies, advocates, and interveners in the effort to end gender-based violence. We believe change is possible.
—Rose Pascarell is the vice president of University Life at George Mason University.